Monday, January 08, 2007


Yes, I did talk bad about James Brown's hair (see #8 on the OSM TOP TEN LIST OF BROTHERS WHO NEED TO LET THE PERM GO). But as far as his contribution to R&B is concerned, I'm willing to give JB his props. The hollering, sweating, process-wearing, camel-walking brother with the South Carolina and Georgia roots was indeed Super Bad (1970) if not a cape-donning trailblazer when it came to soul music, stage presence and showmanship.

Even though I can remember watching my parents and their friends doing the bump and the double bump to James Brown's Payback (1974), I tend to associate JB with the folks of my grandparent's generation. One of the reasons his garbled (and often ridiculed) manner of speaking never really fazed me was because to my ears, he sounded like a lot of my Mississippi-bred grandparents and their contemporaries.

In all honesty, whenever I hear a James Brown beat, a murky image of my Grandmother, standing behind the bar in Binghamton's Tillman Grill is the first thing to come to mind.

Z. M. Hawkins & friend (boss?)
in Tillman Grill
from Lori's Pic Collection
(date unknown)

Tillman Grill, a dark cafe, located (once upon a time) in the heart of North East Memphis's Binghamton community is where my mama's mama worked for a number of years as a cook. The cafe had a jukebox and even though I can't be sure, the mental ties is so strong, I want to say the first time I ever heard any James Brown was on that jukebox. When I close my eyes and concentrate on that cafe jukebox, inevitably, the two JB songs I hear are Cold Sweat (1967) and Say It Loud--I'm Black and I'm Proud (1968). I never asked, but I'm willing to bet my Grandmother's own favortie JB tune was something along the lines of a Please, Please, Please (1956) or Try Me (1959). Those songs have more of a Blues feel to them and to be sure, my Granny (Zenna Mae Hawkins) loved herself some Blues (smile).

Yes, whenever I hear James Brown, I can't help but think about my Granny, a dark Memphis cafe and a doggone jukebox. No doubt that link will grow even stronger since oddly enough, both my Granny and the Godfather made their respective transitions (hers in 2002 and his in 2006) on Christmas Day.

I bet somewhere up there, beyond the pearly gates, JB is on stage screaming, sweating, spinning around and putting on one hell, oops . . . I mean, one heck of a show. My Granny is there too . . . somewhere in a dark corner . . . with a hand cocked to her hip, a grin on her face, her head bobbing real slow like to the JB beat . . . and waiting, all the while, for one of her regulars to call out for another round or place an order for a burger and plate of home fries. After all, who says there's only one way to rest in peace?

Z.M. Hawkins and customers
in a North Memphis cafe
sometime in the 1980's
from Lori's Pic collection


MR said...

Great reminiscence, Lori. Love the pictures!

Lori said...

Thanks MR. The best is yet to come (smile). Lori D.